» Posts tagged: ‘laos

Mining for Malnutrition?

Category: aid| child poverty

15 Jun 2014

micronutirent-powder-sachet-open-in-hand‘Superkid’, Millennium Development Goals, an Australian mining multi-national, power powder, open pit gold mining, malnutrition, the Hong Kong stock exchange and UNICEF. Since 10 June 2014 these seemingly disconnected ideas, actors and practices come together in a remarkably concrete form: a tiny sachet containing a micronutrient powder to be sprinkled on rice fed to Lao infants.

What is all this about? Since late 2011, the Australian headquartered and Hong Kong stock exchange listed multinational mining company MMG has been in a public-private partnership with UNICEF Laos and the Lao government. Child malnutrition has long been a development concern in Laos, where UNICEF reported in 2012 that ‘thirty-one per cent of children under 5 are underweight, and 48 per cent are stunted’, whilst further noting that ‘more than one third of deaths of children under 5 years old in developing countries, like the Lao people’s Democratic Republic, are attributable to it’. According to UNICEF, the problem isn’t so much one of no food or too little but one of overreliance on rice which provides a sufficient energy base yet not all the necessary nutrients.

Concerned that persisting high levels of child malnutrition will put reaching the Millennium Development Goal 4 on child survival at risk, the Lao government welcomes the ‘1000 Days project’. In this project, the Lao Ministry of Health, Unicef Laos, MMG, PSI, and the Lao Women’s Union have partnered in order to distribute micro-nutrient sachets (branded ‘Superkid’) to families with children under 2 years of age at no cost to these families in three provinces in Laos.

MMG, which exploits open pit copper and gold mines in one of the concerned provinces (Savannakhet) has, according to Unicef, pledged US$1.38 million to the project. On its own website, MMG further details that ‘the 1000 Day Project aims to reach an estimated 180,000 Lao children, aged 6 to 59 months, via the distribution of approximately 4 million micronutrient sachets, each containing important vitamins, zinc and other nutrients’. In addition, Unicef states that ‘additional sachets will be subsidized and made available to families with children under 5 years old’.

In line with wider trends in development practice, it is perfectly possible to contribute to this very concrete and highly localised public-private initiative in a rather remote part of the world from anywhere provided there is an internet connection and a credit card at hand. How this works? Through the Unicef-MMG ‘matched giving website‘! Its webpages explain that ‘every micronutrient powder gift purchased online will be matched by MMG, dollar for dollar, resulting in double the impact for children in need’. Donating $25 pays for 750 sachets; sufficient for 2 infants over a period of one year. However, since MMG doubles the amount (with a stated ceiling of $25,000), clicking the ‘pay button’ will ‘save’ four Lao infants for the price of two…

Despite the apparent simplicity of the intervention,  reading the various webpages reporting about the project there appears plenty of confusion and quite a few worrysome errors. Whilst Unicef mentions that the project will be rolled out in three Southern Lao provinces, MMG includes also a northern province (Phongsaly) among the three target provinces. Also, whereas Unicef mentions that MMG has pledged US$1.38 to the project on one of its webpages, it talks about 1.5 million on another site. There also appears something wrong with the maths. From the figures on the matched giving website we can deduce that a child needs a sachet a day. If so, how will 4 million sachets be sufficient to reach the estimated target population of 180,000 Lao children, as MMG explains, even if we were to limit ourselves to one year only (65 million appears a more realistic figure)?

Ultimately however, I guess the real issues aren’t in any of what I have listed above but in the simple observation that there might be something wrong more fundamentally if the same rural spaces that generate great wealth for some remain sites with high levels of child malnutrition for so many others.

posted by Roy Huijsmans



posted by Roy Huijsmans

The ‘Report on the National Child Labour Survey 2010 of Lao PDR‘ which was published in 2012 is now publicly available. The report contains a curious section entitled ‘Trafficking of Children’ (p119-123). This section is based on a special module that is included in the questionnaire called ‘Module X: Trafficking module’ (p171-173). This is basically a list of questions inquiring about current and past migrations related to work by household members less than 25 years of age.

The first curiosity is the statement that ‘as the age or sex of these persons [covered by the ‘Trafficking module’] has not been made a part of this module, it is not possible to estimate how many of them were younger than 18 years old’ (p 120). Although this is strange, particularly given the importance definitions of trafficking attribute to the age of 18, it is even stranger to see this error applies only to half of the questions in the ‘Trafficking module’. In the design of  the questionnaire, the interviewer is asked halfway (Q14) to link the Trafficking module back to the household survey data, which then allows disaggregating by age and gender for the analysis of the subsequent results.

The second curiosity is that the questions in the ‘Trafficking module’ are effectively about migration. No surprise then that the section entitled ‘Trafficking of children’ speaks about ‘migration’ only and does not mention the term ‘trafficking’ even once. This serves to show that organisations like the ILO still have a long way to go in figuring out, in relation to those below 18 years of age, how to conceptualise trafficking in a manner that makes it in distinct from migration in such research exercises.



Category: education| Uncategorized

22 Jan 2013

posted by Roy Huijsmans

The Bangkok Post announces that Thailand’s education minister has ordered all schools ‘to abolish strict limits on the length of students’ hair.’

A 1972 regulation stipulates that schoolboys should have their hair no longer than five centimetres and schoolgirls should have their hair no longer than the base of their neck. Even though this regulation was overruled by a 1975 ministerial regulation allowing students  ‘to have longer hair, but stipulating it must look tidy’, in practice most schools have remained strict about hair-length.

Students are reportedly pleased with this announcement. One grade 7 student said: “We have had crew cuts since we were in primary school. Now we don’t need to have our hair cut every month.” Adults appear less enthusiastic. However, a deputy director of a secondary school observed that ‘ the 1972 ministerial regulation is a good rule because the crew cuts make students look tidy and differentiates them from adults.’

Interestingly, where Thai school uniforms and school hair cuts function to differentiate students from adults the precise opposite is the case in Laos, Thailand’s neighbour. In Laos, primary school uniforms are modelled on adult dress (so no shorts for boys, and long skirts for girls), as is the case with prescribed hairstyles (girls are required to wear their hair long, in ponytails).



posted by Roy Huijsmans

Sverre Molland’s The Perfect Business? Anti-trafficking and the sex trade along the Mekong is a highly accessible, ethnographically rich and theoretically stimulating account of trafficking and anti-trafficking.

Juxtaposing trafficking and anti-trafficking, the author raises a number of relevant questions. For example, whilst noting the ‘continuous problem’ that ‘officially identified Lao trafficked victims’ are being held in shelters in Thailand for ‘very long periods, in some cases more than one year’ , he observes that:

I cannot recall many trafficking cases from Laos where a trafficker confined an individual for so long. It is therefore not unreasonable to speculate on the possiblity that actions of govenments and organisations to “help” sex workers have done more damage to, and violation of, their human rights than the misdeeds of traffickers(p 27).

In this light Molland further argues that:

in the context of Laos and Thailand, any researcher worth his or her grant money would know that unconditionally committing oneself to reporting, say, the presence of underage girls in a brothel to the police would most likely result in entrenchment of exploitation (“rehabilitation,” deportation, imprisonment, abuse, confiscation of earnings, and so on) of the girls themselves and not many consequences for those who operate such establishments’ (p27)

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